Village Matters

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Loving it Gently

By Ann Christoph
By Ann Christoph

“Visitors to our hotel want to experience Laguna Beach in the same ways residents do; they want to feel they are living here, too, that it’s their home town, if only for a few days.” At a recent community meeting Council member Rob Zur Schmiede quoted the manager of the Inn at Laguna and translated, “What’s good for residents is good for tourists, too.”

What a concept! Someone is recognizing that we don’t have to set up entertaining or eye-catching attractions to entice visitors. We don’t have to be “Laguna Beach: the Real Orange County.” We can just be ourselves. Residents and businesses catering to tourists can be on the same course.

Do visitors expect not to be entertained, but rather involved and inspired? To feel that they are a part of the Laguna Beach legend?

At Monday night’s Laguna Canyon Conservancy meeting, Hallie Jones, executive director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation, showed a map of Laguna surrounded by green and blue. “Look where we live! The wilderness parks of the Laguna Greenbelt and the Marine Life Protection Areas of the Bluebelt. Few towns are surrounded by beautiful natural protected areas as we are.”

“But are we in danger of loving them to death?”

As she talked of the achievements and challenges of managing the Greenbelt, she cited some alarming statistics. Numbers of visitors to the Wilderness Parks have increased three-fold since 2012. Now we are seeing an annual count of over 300,000 park visitors.   The trailhead parking lots fill up early in the day and more visitors are using the Canyon Road for overflow parking. This is an indication that the carrying capacity of the park is being exceeded. Increasing numbers of even those treading lightly, causes impact to the terrain, vegetation and wildlife. We may have to limit use much as the National Parks Service does.

The benefits of protection and limiting use are manifested in the changes to the wildlife and habitat off shore since the institution of the marine life protections three years ago.   The city’s marine protection officer, Jeremy Frimond, at a Village Laguna meeting earlier this month, and Greg O’Loughlin at the South Laguna Civic Association’s annual meeting last week, gave presentations on the condition of our local ocean habitat. They flashed one colorful and animated underwater image after another. The marine life is not only more abundant, but more approachable. The fish have learned they don’t have to be fearing for their lives every time they see a human.

Knowing that the fish are happier and less fearful is a benefit of the preserve that I had never considered, but that principle of gentleness and respect could be applied to the land habitats of the greenbelt too. How wonderful it is to be on the patio of the Ranch and look at the deer casually grazing in the golf course below. They are at home in the canyon, having lunch with us. Applying that approach to the wildlife we don’t see, and to the plants we have yet to understand is key to keeping the integrity of our wild areas intact.

Consider that Laguna lovers—residents and visitors alike—can love it best by leaving it alone. We don’t always have to do more, have more attractions, more events, more projects or provide for more people. We can be involved gently and thoughtfully, and let inspiration come to us.

 

Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former council member.

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